National Newswatch

OTTAWA - The latest episode of C.S.I. Canmore involves duelling forensic audio experts, a sworn affidavit and mysteriously vanishing comments from a Conservative MP's Facebook page.

Geoffrey Stewart Morrison, an academic and forensic audio specialist, is questioning the credibility of an audio analysis that backed the Conservatives' version of who said what in a secretly recorded conversation the party has used to pillory Marlo Raynolds, the Liberal candidate in Banff-Airdrie.

The audio — surreptitiously recorded at a public meeting last month in Canmore, Alta., by a young Conservative operative who has conducted previous sting operations against Liberals — involves a conversation about the Harper government's plan to allow income splitting for tax purposes.

A man the Conservatives maintain is Raynolds says the plan would give couples with children money that they'd waste buying television sets and cars, rather than caring for their kids.

Raynolds has vehemently denied saying that and Tam McTavish, a Canmore resident who says he voted Conservative in the last election, has said he's the one who actually uttered the offending comments.

Over the weekend, Raynolds and McTavish signed a sworn affidavit affirming that McTavish was the speaker.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives have refused to apologize and have continued using Raynolds' alleged remarks to claim Liberals think they know better than parents how to spend their money and care for their kids.

The Conservative party went so far as to hire Edward J. Primeau, who bills himself as a video producer and audio and video forensic expert, to analyze the audio. He reported to the party last week that he's "100 per cent sure" Raynolds was the one who made the controversial comments.

However, Morrison, who said he's not affiliated with either party or any of the individuals involved, contacted The Canadian Press to cast doubt on Primeau's analysis. He said he was motivated strictly out of concern about the quality of the audio analysis.

"The approach used by Mr. Primeau, the aural-spectrographic approach, has long been criticized for being overly subjective and susceptible to bias and for not having had its degree of validity and reliability empirically tested under casework conditions," said Morrison, a former director of the forensic voice comparison laboratory at Australia's University of New South Wales.

"It has been ruled inadmissible in U.S. Federal Court."

Even had Primeau relied on a more accepted method of analyzing the audio, Morrison said it's "not logically possible" to claim 100 per cent certainty about who spoke the words in question. Even DNA testing, which is far more certain than forensic audio analysis, doesn't produce 100 per cent certainty, he said.

Morrison, currently an adjunct associate professor in the University of Alberta's linguistics department, organized a special session on "distinguishing between science and pseudo science" at last year's International Congress on Acoustics in Montreal.

The one advantage to Primeau's method of analysis is that it "can be done relatively quickly and cheaply," Morrison said. He declined to do his own analysis of the disputed audio, saying it would take weeks of work and thousands of dollars to do it properly.

He did, however, produce a highly technical, 26-page critique of Primeau's three-page analysis, which he has posted on his website:

Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann stood by Primeau's conclusions.

"This is a forensic audio expert used in the past by news outlets like Postmedia and the Ottawa Citizen," Hann said Monday.

"The audio is online for everyone to hear and the report is online for everyone to read. It speaks for itself."

From Raynolds' perspective, the whole controversy has exposed two problems: the Conservatives' willingness to surreptitiously record rivals and their reliance on "shoddy science" to defend the recordings.

"I think we've hit a real low in Canadian politics," he said.

Among those who've used the recording to attack Raynolds and the Liberals are Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Blake Richards, the Conservative MP for Banff-Airdrie.

As of Monday, Richards' Facebook page still included a post about Raynolds' alleged comments and a link to a video of Richards denouncing his Liberal rival in the House of Commons. Comments posted in response by Raynolds and McTavish last week, explaining that it was McTavish who made the offending remarks, have been deleted.

Raynolds said Richards appears to have blocked him from posting any other comments on the MP's Facebook page.

The disputed audio was initially given to Sun Media television personality Brian Lilley, who wrote about Raynolds' alleged comments in a newspaper column and talked about them on his TV show. Sun Media retracted the story last week, after McTavish claimed ownership of the comments.

The Canadian Press
Click here for more political news headlines
🔔 We're about to launch our newsletter! Make sure you don't miss a beat. Sign up for our newsletter